Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez May Stop New York LaGuardia From Getting Train Service

In 2015 New York Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled a plan to connect New York LaGuardia airport to Manhattan by train. It was a hair-brained scheme designed to sail through approvals quickly, not deliver the best transit option to New Yorkers and visitors.

  • They’d build a 1.5 mile train from the airport to the Willets Point station. This meant going the opposite direction of the city to connect to other existing trains – the 7 subway and Long Island Rail Road.

  • The price tag was estimated at $450 million. It’s already up over $2 billion.

After billions of dollars LaGuardia would lack a direct train to the city, and wouldn’t even be efficiently connected. But the plan involved inconveniencing relatively few residents. That, combined with the political firepower of the governor and – at the time – the Obama administration seemed like they could accomplish something even if it was a second (or fourth) best.

Now there’s a new monkey wrench: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s gotten involved in travel controversies before and she’s even promised to eliminate credit card rewards.

Now she’s sent a letter to the assistant administrator of the FAA demanding to know why this Governor’s plan was approved and 46 alternatives rejected. The reason, of course, is simple: it had the least and least effective opposition, and was less costly. The least opposition, at least, until Ocasio-Cortez spoke up.

To be sure, the plan is a hair-brained one. There won’t be a direct link to the city. It’ll take passengers away from the city before sending them back to it. And it’ll add congestion to the already crowded 7 line, trading airport road congestion for public transit congestion. Complaints about the plan though merely prevent anything from being done.

We’re looking at this as the best available option because we’re bad at doing major infrastructure projects in this country. And Ocasio-Cortez’s opposition, four and a half years in, illustrates why that is.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Not a very good post, Gary. You describe the proposal as a bad idea and then criticize a member of Congress for asking critical questions about the bad idea. Seems like you’re just looking for an excuse to criticize AOC.

  2. We shouldn’t be building infrastructure just to build infrastructure. It should be part of a more strategic plan. As you mentioned, the current plan is only moving forward because there are no humans along that path to be opposed to it. But if we are going to invest 2 billion dollars in an infrastructure plan, we can do better.

    See for more background information. (Written before the letter by AOC.)

  3. Any clout people have to stop this train is good clout. The current Q70 to the express subway is at least as fast when traffic is light. Spend the money on extending the N train or spend $100 to convert existing roadways to dedicated bus lanes and the rest on something more useful.

  4. Since I don’t know what the other proposals were, I can’t make an informed opinion about whether any they would have been better, but just because this is an indirect route into Manhattan doesn’t mean it’s not the right choice. First, it’s really not that far out of the way. Secondly, disrupting the fewest residents is a legitimate consideration, as is connecting to a wider, in-place system rather than building something completely new. Moreover, connecting to an existing LIRR station makes a lot of sense: there is only one stop between Willets Point and Penn Station in Manhattan, and the rest of Long Island (where a lot of Laguardia congestion comes from) would suddenly become accessible. Finally, staying on the 7 isn’t the only subway option: there are several transfer points along the way which can get you almost anywhere in the city. Probably the most important part of this plan will be the in-progress upgrades to the 7 line. Hopefully they will accomplish what they’re supposed to.

  5. @Charlie – you’re missing the point, this is a bad project but the best we can do. The reason it’s the best we can do is because of the ability of anyone and everyone to throw a monkey wrench. If we can’t even do *this* we’re doomed.

    I’m not criticizing AOC as such, but the system that prevents decent infrastructure projects on a reasonable timeline and decent cost in the U.S.

  6. This post is disappointing and I expect better from this site. Beyond the click-baity headline, it reads like a thinly veiled political rant. So the “hair-brained scheme” is a bad idea and hemorrhaging money, but Ocasio-Cortez is wrong to question why alternatives were overlooked? She was not in office four and a half years ago and I’m not sure how her involvement (which seems legit to me based on the district she represents) makes us “bad at doing major infrastructure projects.” Seems like the project was bad from the start.

  7. It’s not like you can’t take public transportation to LGA, but it currently involves a fairly short bus segment (I do it all the time!). There’s nothing magical about a train connection, and if it costs $2 billion and by some accounts would make the trip from Manhattan longer, doing nothing may be the best option.

  8. Gary –
    “We must do this because this is the least we can do” is woefully inadequate. Have you investigated why the costs are 4x already? Have you actually analyzed the other 27 proposals or are you just going with “well they told me this one was the easiest…”.

    If you want to be a thought leader, have deep insights, not trivial takeaways.

  9. @Ty — Exactly. There’s no reason to spend so much money on something that is worse than the current best option.

    @Tom — It doesn’t make the rest of Long Island accessible, since the LIRR line the AirTrain would connect to is the only one that doesn’t stop at the Jamaica hub. And yes, I could connect from the 7 to something else…like the E/F/M/R in Jackson Heights…which I already do via a single 10-minute bus ride from LGA. Why would I spend more time and money to get to the same station?

    Obviously the N should be extended. Give the residents for that mile a tax abatement for the duration of the construction. Give the contractors an incentive to finish early and heavily fine anyone who interferes.

  10. Your lede reads like fresh red meat bait for the Alex Jones and Fox News tinfoil hat wearing crowd. Gary, your politics come out even though you try to hide them often. We get it. You love unfettered capitalism and loooooove the gravy train that predatory lending and lax regulation provides your business through credit card sign up cash payments. I think her request to understand why 46 plans (some of which that were probably far better) were rejected is a reasonable one. I assume your readership must be highly right wing given the number of business types who want to avoid taxes who live in Texas or Florida who follow the blog and the clear (yet sometimes somewhat veiled) partisan commentary. I suppose it’s speaking to the base. Lots of self-centered folks in the frequent flier universe.

  11. New York City is already fouled up with Greedy politicians. The idiot bartender is only going to make it worse.

  12. One word and two letters . . . Amazon HQ. . .AOC is not well educated when it comes to business in a the semi-free market. Socialist ideas will NEVER be accepted in this country outside or NYC, BOS, DC, LA, SFO, PDX and SEA.

  13. In the 90s, before the JFK Air train was built, originally it was going to be a direct train from Midtown Manhattan (terminal would have been where Bloomberg tower is now) going over the Queensboro bridge, to LGA and then to JFK. The Air train would be built over highways and existing commuter train tracks. However, I don’t remember why this plan was killed. Maybe it was cost, but instead an Air train from JFK to Jamaica station with connections to E/J/Z and LIRR trains was built as a result. Originally if the entire route was built with a direct connection to midtown Manhattan this current project wouldn’t be happening. I know this because I live in Queens and been reading about the Air train projects from the Port Authority back in the day.

  14. “This government project is dumb and four times overbudget, but we can’t ask questions about it because that will slow it down” is a weird argument for a self-styled libertarian to make. But I guess whatever lets you criticize AOC.

  15. @Gary

    This plan is certainly not “the best we can do”. It’s a terrible plan and everyone knows it, there are in fact other options that are better. I never thought I would ever agree with AOC on anything, but this is one of them. This whole plan is emblematic of everything wrong with NY, the endless graft and corruption. One angle not really discussed is that the airtrain would be another piggy bank revenue stream for the Port Authority, whereas a subway connection would likely be significantly cheaper for most commuters. But when has NY/NYC ever done ANYTHING to decrease costs for it’s residents? (Answer: Never)

  16. If we can’t even criticize shit we will never do anything good is about the dumbest argument I think I have read on this site. You’re usually pretty good with big picture macroeconomic concepts, questions of incentivizing behavior, and similar stuff. It is a strength of this site.

    The idea that allowing shit and inefficient infrastructure is necessary because it is the best we can do is positively dumb.

    I don’t have any empirical base to say it, but there is a chance it is actually 180 degrees wrong.

  17. This is the third time in the last eight months that Gary has run an article critical of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, each time putting her name in the headline. How many other of the 535 members of Congress appear in Gary’s articles? Or his headlines? When Gary beats up on Doug Parker and Scott Kirby, that’s within the normal scope of the blog, but when he reaches out into the political world and takes aim at one member of Congress repeatedly, I smell a hidden agenda.

  18. Every time I come to this website,. my belief that “those who can’t, blog” is strengthened every day.

    You mention that it goes away from the city before then approaching it: By your argument, the Heathrow Express is just as stupid because it goes north, before it goes east. Penn to EWR goes west before it goes south, SF to SFO bart goes west before it goes east

    You then link to the arguments against, before you’ve even linked to the original plan.

    Your commenters do a better job of blogging than you do

  19. If this is the best that can be done, then nothing should be done.

    It’s not even incrementally more convenient than the current public transportation options with city bus.

  20. @sunviking82

    And yet, those so-called socialist cities are much stronger economically compared to everywhere else, including the Rust Belt or the South. Without those cities and states putting in more than their share of government funding, your red states would be even more trouble economically due to lack of subsidies. But then, I am of the thought to cut those subsidies off so I might not be much of a socialist even though I live in a city.

  21. What a horrible headline and an even worse article. I can’t believe any Republican in his or her right mind would suggest that spending $2 billion on an admittedly “hair-brained” [sic] plan is a good use of taxpayer money. The fact that the area’s representative is requesting information on why and how this decision was made is entirely appropriate. This is especially true given the fact that there were alternate proposals on the table as well.

    I understand that this article is clickbait and I’ve fallen for the trap (and I’ve even posted a comment, which compounds the problem!), but I just wanted to point out to Gary and YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM with this country. Enjoy the clicks, enjoy the comment rage that you’ve purposefully invited. But at the end of the day, when you close your eyes for bed, you should feel at least a tiny speck of shame, because you are contributing to the garbage that is taking this country directly into the crapper.

  22. LGA travel is a dysfunctional mess unless you are rich enough to have a chauffeur. The rest of us have to deal with the bus, Uber or a NY taxis (which skimmed my credit card and charged stuff all over Queens) Amazing that the so called greatest city doesn’t even have a train to the airport. New Yorkers apparently don’t expect too much.

  23. Was waiting for u and right wing racists Alan and Ryan above to go after AOC even when you hardly disagree with her. But she is a woman of color and we know your politics.

  24. @Ollie

    One reason the AirTrain to JFK is not direct is that the other part of the Port Authority, the part that runs Newark Airport, opposed it because it would be unfair competition, because their train is not direct.

  25. AOC having influence on any city (especially the biggest city in the US) is utter insanity. Seriously, who voted for this person?

  26. @Gary – I don’t normally say this but the headline is some serious clickbait. If AOC thinks that dumping a ton of money into a crappy system is a bad idea, maybe we should take a fresh look. Maybe she’s wrong, but maybe not as well. As a non-resident, it would seem vastly more sensible to me to spend more money and do it right rather than some hodgepodge mixup that is being set up currently.

  27. AOC is wacky.
    AOC is usually wacky.
    AOC is not necessarily wacky in this case.

    The AirTrain system is expensive and lousy. Ok, maybe good for those heading to Montauk and Stony Brook on Long Island but a lousy route for those heading to Manhattan and Staten Island.

    Better alternatives might be more frequent buses to Jackson Height/74th and Roosevelt. The current bus can be very fast. Trains are not always better (witness the $100B California High Speed Rail).

  28. Nothing particularly wrong with Gary’s comment or headline. The reaction to it is way over the top.

    Also, why are we talking about AOC? Because she is a media darling who is on TV 24/7. Duh. Further, she has raised a lot of money independent of the Democrat machine and is her own power base. As such she is news.

    So she is a perfectly legitimate person for Gary to comment on.

  29. A Zero Castro is using this as another opportunity to speak with the media. The other day she was railing against continued strong performance by the stock market since “the average person doesn’t have money invested there”, which indicates her lack of knowledge about how the overall economy impacts the typical U.S. resident. For all the time she spends pandering in public, she needs to spend some of her outrageous salary on better looking teeth.

  30. That $2B train is just an excuse so the Frankenstein Governor can run on an infrastructure platform in 2024. It is an absolute waste of money that won’t further the interest of the people that paid PFCs and I’m glad AOC is getting traction since no one else is talking about it.

  31. No-build is a better option than the current AirTrain design, and I say this as an enthusiastic fan of public transit.

    The current plan goes the wrong direction and will dramatically increase travel time to Manhattan because the transfer options and headways will be so poorly aligned.

    In addition to the excellent Streetsblog and Second Avenue Sagas links posted earlier, here’s another expert analysis:

  32. quoting from the StreetsBlog post for emphasis:

    “Cuomo’s plan relies on an overtaxed subway and an isolated and infrequent LIRR line. Even with some peak-hour express service, the 7 train from Willets Point to Grand Central is a crowded, narrow-body train that can’t take too many more people at peak hours, let alone airport travelers with luggage.

    The LIRR’s Port Washington branch, meanwhile, stops only twice an hour at Willets Point and offers no connection to the transit hub at Jamaica, thus bypassing an important transfer point and failing to connect to trains bound for other parts of Long Island or Brooklyn’s Atlantic Terminal. It is, in essence, the least-useful LIRR line for dispersing travelers to other parts of the region. Thus, the LaGuardia AirTrain will not only lead to longer and time-consuming trips, but also trips that are inconvenient. It’s the worst of all transit outcomes: a $2-billion project designed to push potential riders away from their destinations.”

  33. I have never understood—why don’t they have a fairy service between LGA and Manhattan? It seems like that would be the most efficient mode of transit for this route.

  34. This seems like a critcism of Ocasio-Cortes, plain and simple. You start from that premise and then build it up. Didn’t expect this site to be that politically biased.

  35. Gary, you have the hots for her like a heat-seeking missile does for a hot-flying carbon polluter doing double duty as a passenger jet?

    And she’s even on the same side as you this time. Talk about friendly fire.

  36. @guflyer Delta used to have a ferry service from the MAT that was awesome. I took it a few times but don’t remember exactly where it stopped. Seems like there was a midtown and a downtown pier. I think they discontinued it around 2000.

    @gary regardless of ones politics, this is one the worst blog posts I’ve ever read. Judging by the comments, I’m not alone in my feelings.

  37. @Allen is everyone that disagrees with your politics a racist? Really? Grow up, sonny, and get a life.

  38. This post is totally misleading… Gary’s right-wing leanings are peeking through. I don’t always agree with her but as a NEW YORKER, she is absolutely correct. The current proposal is completely moronic and virtually no one will use it. It is lighting $2 bil on fire. We do NEED an AirTrain or direct subway to LGA 100%. But the current plan is NOT IT. AOC is absolutely spot on. Also, in the article, Gary agrees with her but somehow spins it that she is part of the problem. On this, she is absolutely correct. I commend her on saving us $2 billion that would have gone out the window. Hopefully, they will change to the “correct” solution.

  39. This is hardly new information. Actually this has been going on for quite a long time and the fact that AOC didn’t seem to know anything about it until now shows just how incompetent she is. Unfortunately, there is too much pandering going on to these communities.Coming up with unwieldy and costly plans because you don’t want to upset a small group of people at the expense of the entire metropolitan region is a bit absurd. Someone is ALWAYS going to complain, so just come up with what is best for the city and to hell with the people who have an issue with it. Otherwise nothing will ever get done. The current situation with LGA is a disgrace.

  40. Gary,

    As a self-proclaimed libertarian back in the days, you are really suggesting that government should spend a lot of money to push forward an expensive public works project — a project which does little to nothing to expand the financial returns for those large corporate players not involved as contractors for a questionable public works project — and that elected representatives should ask fewer questions about an expensive proposed public works project?

    Do you have some kind of desire to see public works projects fail and see public works be ever more subject to popular ridicule and funds-starvation than is already the case? I guess that is one explanation for your questionable position on the the LGA connectivity plan and on the NY Congresswoman’s concerns about the LGA connectivity plan.

  41. Shannon,

    You think AOC is more horrible than Queens-born President Trump? AOC is safer for the daughters of America than that lecherous Donny Trump and his (now dead) female-hunting buddy Jeffrey Epstein.

    It’s rather horrible that two of our four most recent US Presidents have been sexual predators of sort. And it’s telling that they kept company with the now-dead teenage girl-hunting Jeffrey Epstein.

    At least GW Bush and BH Obama were honorable men and, like AOC, aren’t a danger to America’s daughters.

  42. Make America great again in November 2020 by voting for a person whom can be trusted with America’s daughters even behind closed doors.

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